Stress has real physical effects on the body - East Valley Tribune: Living Well

Stress has real physical effects on the body

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Heidi Rula, M.D., is a physician at Integrative Care for Women in Mesa. Reach her at (480) 699-2508 or

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Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 7:15 am | Updated: 9:56 am, Mon Aug 13, 2012.

Do you feel tired all the time, have decreased ability to handle stress and/or crave salty or sweet food?

These symptoms may be caused by adrenal fatigue, when the adrenal glands are not able to produce adequate amounts of cortisol in response to stress. 

The adrenal glands are hormone-producing glands that sit just above the kidneys. They secrete almost 50 different hormones that play an important role in the function of every tissue in the body. One of the hormones they secrete is cortisol, often referred to as the “stress” hormone. Cortisol not only helps your body deal with stress in the flight-or-fight response, it helps with sugar metabolism, blood pressure regulation, insulin release and immune and inflammatory responses.

Adrenal fatigue is usually caused from being under chronic, long-term stress. A common history is the type-A person, who works very long hours under high stress for many years and then finally hits a point of exhaustion from which they cannot recover. Another is the person who becomes depleted after going through a series of high-stress events in their life, such as the death of loved one, loss of a job or major health issues, such as surgery. 

Adrenal fatigue is a diagnosis that has not been recognized by the conventional medical community but is gaining more and more attention. If you think you may suffer from fatigue, it is best to see a practitioner who has experience with adrenal fatigue. The best way to diagnose it is with salivary cortisol levels and a good history and physical exam.

Adrenal fatigue is a reversible condition that should be addressed with nutrition, lifestyle changes, and botanical and nutritional supplements. I often refer my patient’s to Dr. James Wilson’s book “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome” to get a better understanding of the condition. 

Some of the basic components of treatment involve getting a handle on stress in your life — by working on stress reduction, incorporating a daily relaxation practice and getting adequate sleep. Nutrition is also important, and we advise patients to eat a low-glycemic diet and avoid sugar, caffeine and processed foods. Supplements that we use include vitamin C, B vitamins and magnesium. Botanical medicines, such as rhodiola and ashwaganda, also help the adrenal glands recover. 

Stress can have a toxic effect on the body: Not only can it increase the risk for heart disease, stroke and cancer, but it can cause adrenal dysfunction. If you have been suffering from fatigue that has not been explained on routine medical tests, it may be time to have your adrenal gland function evaluated.

• Heidi Rula, M.D., is a physician at Integrative Care for Women in Mesa. Reach her at (480) 699-2508 or

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